Competing bills take aim at banning microbeads

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 28, 2015

 Microbeads can be found in a variety of personal care products, from toothpaste to hand soap to facial wash.

Microbeads can be found in a variety of personal care products, from toothpaste to hand soap to facial wash.

Nik Merkulov / Shutterstock


METRO DETROIT — Two bills introduced in the Michigan Legislature seek to ban the use of tiny plastic microbeads in the state.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, is HB 4345, and it would ban all microbeads that are not “biodegradeable.” A competing bill from Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, is HB 4287, and it would ban all microbeads outright. Outman’s bill was in committee as of press time, with a vote to be held soon. Both bills were introduced in March, though Greig’s has not yet been taken up for a hearing.

These beads, typically no more than 1 millimeter in diameter, can be found in a variety of personal care products, from toothpaste to hand soap to facial wash. They are meant to exfoliate the skin and teeth, but they can end up in the water system.

Michigan Environmental Council Policy Director James Clift told C & G Newspapers in March that the microbeads end up getting into the food chain and causing problems for wildlife that mistake the beads for food.

“They’ll feel full, but they are not getting any nutritional benefit from it, and that impacts the health of the species,” Clift said. “And there might be some chemicals involved that are impacting other aquatic species.”

In testimony Oct. 6 regarding Outman’s bill, the environmental council said that a 2012 open water survey on the Great Lakes found some of the highest concentrations of microplastics on Earth, the majority of which were made up of those microbeads.

Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, said the major problem she has with Outman’s bill is the definition of “biodegradable.” Specifically, she is critical that the bill does not define it.

“If something biodegrades in 1,000 years, it’s technically biodegradable,” Roberts said.

She said that laws passed in neighboring states banning microbeads are similar to Outman’s proposal, while laws passed in California and New Jersey are more in line with Greig’s, which bans biodegradable beads as well. In all, nine states have banned the microbeads.

Mike Thompson, a representative of the state government affairs division of the Personal Care Products Council, said the industry is supportive of government efforts to ban microbeads, but the industry is looking for uniformity in the legal language.

“We endorsed the bill that passed last year in Illinois, we supported legislation in Indiana, and we’re supportive of legislative efforts in Michigan,” Thompson said. “We want to make sure everything is totally consistent — mostly technical definitions — and we’re making sure that something that would, for example, be illegal in Illinois wouldn’t be legal in Michigan.”

Thompson said numerous companies are already planning on phasing out microbeads from products within the next few years, but with the legislation, all companies can be assured that competitors are doing the same along the same basic timeline.

He added that the Illinois law was a “true compromise” between legislators and multiple stakeholders, and that it was among the first governmental bodies on the planet to address microbead pollution.

Roberts said she does not see any reason why microbeads are necessary, whether they are biodegradable or not.

“It’s becoming a real environmental concern, and they’re not necessary,” Roberts said. “It’s just a cheap way to create a product that has an abrasion or exfoliation.”

Due to the size of the beads, municipal filtration systems do not catch them, and Roberts said she is not aware of any way to clean them up out of the Great Lakes once they enter.

A federal bill to ban microbeads was introduced into the House of Representatives in March, but no action had been taken as of press time.

Outman could not be reached immediately Oct. 23.